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News 20 Oct 16

Macedonian Prosecution Probes €2m Abuses at Ministries

Macedonia's Special Prosecution has launched two investigations into alleged abuses of office at the culture and transport ministries, which it said cost the state budget two million euros.

Sinisa Jakov Marusic
BIRN
Skopje
Macedonia's special prosecutors. Photo: MIA

The Special Prosecution, which is tasked with probing high-level crime, launched its two latest investigations on Wednesday, focused on alleged abuses of office at the culture and transport ministries.

In the first investigation, codenamed "Tender", prosecutors suspect high-ranking officials at the culture ministry setting up an unlawful one-million-euro tender to build part of the Museum of VMRO and Macedonian Struggle for Independence. The museum opened in 2011 and is part of the grand government-funded revamp of the capital entitled ‘Skopje 2014’.

BIRN has learned that the first suspect in the case is the current Culture Minister, Elizabeta Kanceska-Milevska. Three members of the State Public Procurements Bureau are also suspects.

Deputy Special Prosecutor Fatime Fetai told a press conference that the first suspect in June 14, 2011, told a senior representative of the Macedonian construction firm Beton-Stip on the phone that the firm should work on the final construction work for the museum and that the tendering procedure would be announced later.

According to Fetai, the suspect told the Beton-Stip representative that it was all arranged so that no other company could be awarded the tender.

"The first suspect tells the witness that she had already arranged with the second suspect, the head of the public procurement commission, to award the tender to Beton-Stip after it is published, because they agreed to set such criteria which only Beton-Stip would fulfil," Fetai said.

The tendering procedure, according to the Public Procurements Bureau website, was launched in June 17, 2011, three days after the telephone conversation took place and after the firm already knew that it would win.

The museum opened in September 8, 2011, on the 20th anniversary of Macedonia's independence.

But Culture Minister Kanceska-Milevska rebuffed the Special Prosecution’s claims, insisting that she was innocent and that the construction of the museum was done according to the law.

Kanceska-Milevska, who in August appeared for questioning at the Special Prosecution, SJO, alleged that the prosecution's statement was solely aimed at tainting her and her ministry's image to help the opposition at the forthcoming elections set for December 11.

"The SJO has proved that it is working under the [opposition party] SDSM's instructions, superficially and without analysis and analytics, based on vague assessments. All the accusations that were presented are false and I strongly insist that Fetai's theses are hearsay... The entire project is led according to the law," she said.

On Tuesday, the SJO seized documents from the Culture Ministry as part of the case.

In the second case, codenamed "Toplik", the SJO suspects a former senior official at the transport ministry, who was not named, and five more employees at the ministry of costing the state budget one million euros by knowingly signing a problematic contract for selling a piece of state land to the private Sun City company in 2007.

The firm was to construct the Soncev grad (Sun City) housing settlement on land near the capital Skopje. However, the building work never started and the contract was broken with the state having to pay damages to the company.

The SJO said it has determined that on April 3, 2007, a commission inside the ministry warned the unnamed senior official that the land could not be sold due to "factual and legal problems", deputy special prosecutor Fatime Fetai told the press conference.

But the next day, the official formed a new commission which approved the selling of the land. The members of this commission are now also suspects in the case.

"Between April 3, 2007 and February 2, 2013, the first suspect - a high ranking official from the transport ministry - and five accomplices misused their office, knowingly agreed with the harmful consequences and inflicted one million euros’ worth of damage on the state budget," Fetai said.

Three years later, due to the problems pinpointed by the first commission in the ministry, the Sun City firm which acquired the land was unable to begin construction.

Through a court settlement with the transport ministry, the firm got back its investment, plus interest which amounted to just over one million euros on top of the investment money.

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